April 06, 2017
He came to see me in my office. He wore a suit and tie and carried a briefcase. We exchanged pleasantries and then I asked, “So, what did you want to talk about?”
He looked at the floor, wrung his hands a little, then said, “I lost my job a couple of months ago and I am having trouble finding a new one.”
We continued our conversation and at one point I asked, “So what are you doing every day?” He said, “I get up, as if I am going to work, get on the train, go to the city, and work at finding a job via computer either at a coffee shop or a library with wifi.” He fidgeted, gulped, paused, and then made this confession, “My family doesn’t know I’ve lost my job.”
“You mean your kids”, I said.
“Yeah, my kids.” (another long pause) “Or my wife … no one knows”, he said.
I wish I could say I was surprised. But this wasn’t the first time I’ve heard this story.
Over the years I have had men who had lost their jobs tell me that they hadn’t told anyone, including their spouses, about losing their jobs. Some have said that they didn’t want to burden their family with worry. Others mentioned they just couldn’t find the right time to have that conversation. The information usually isn’t shared due to embarrassment and a feeling of shame.
For men, we are what we do. That isn’t the truth, but it is our perception. It is a perception that is planted deep within us.
I read an article recently that quoted anthropologist David Gilmore’s research into what is considered masculine across cultures.The article said that, “Gilmore groups traditional roles of males in most cultures under the three P’s: protector, provider, and progenitor. Masculinity is often defined within a culture as a man’s ability to achieve all three roles.”
This helps us understand why men have their identity wrapped in what we do. Men are constantly measuring, consciously or subconsciously, how we are doing in these three areas of life. Being a provider is closely connected to being a protector. Is my profession providing my family with what they need and want in life and protecting them from physical, emotional and spiritual harm?
Over the years I have tried to help men understand that who we are is much more important that what we do. Our families care much more about our character, our values and priorities than they do our professions (for the most part). From a Christian perspective, we find our identity in and through our relationship with Christ. We are Christ-followers who have families, professions, friends, neighbors, and other interests. We don’t have professional lives, social lives, recreational lives and lives with friends. We have lives with many different roles.
As I approach retirement (May 21 is my last Sunday), I wonder about identity. For 43 years I have been “Rev”: pastor, preacher, counselor, leader. Now what? Will I struggle with my identity? Will I be burdened by guilt and shame? Will I be lost?
One of the great things about ministry is that almost everything qualifies. When I am having coffee with people, I am involved in ministry. When I am golfing with people, I am involved in ministry. When I am visiting a museum or reading a book, I am broadening my horizons for ministry (and collecting more ideas for Rev’s Reflections!). When I am talking with my neighbors, or serving in the community, or coaching a team, I am involved in ministry.
God is never done using us.
I guess I will always be Rev.